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Chapter XXV. Volunteers and Patriots

I hold a strong brief for the English: For the English at home, restrained, earnest, determined and unassuming; for the English in the field, equally all of these things.

The British Army has borne attacks at La Bassee and Ypres, positions so strategically difficult to hold that the Germans have concentrated their assaults at these points. It has borne the horrors of the retreat from Mons, when what the Kaiser called "General French's contemptible little army" was forced back by oncoming hosts of many times its number. It has fought, as the English will always fight, with unequalled heroism but without heroics.

To-day, after many months of war, the British Army in the field is as smart, in a military sense, as tidy--if it will forgive me the word--as well ordered, as efficiently cared for, as the German Army was in the beginning. Partly this is due to its splendid equipment. Mostly it is due to that fetish of the British soldier wherever he may be--personal neatness.

Behind the lines he is jaunty, cheerful, smart beyond belief. He hates the trenches--not because they are dangerous or monotonous but because it is difficult to take a bath in them. He is four days in the trenches and four days out. On his days out he drills and marches, to get back into condition after the forced inaction of the trenches. And he gets his hair trimmed.

There is something about the appearance of the British soldier in the field that got me by the throat. Perhaps because they are, in a sense, my own people, speaking my tongue, looking at things from a view-point that I could understand. That partly. But it was more than that.

These men and boys are volunteers, the very flower of England. They march along the roads, heads well up, eyes ahead, thousands of them. What a tragedy for the country that gives them up! Who will take their places?--these splendid Scots with their picturesque kilts, their bare, muscular knees, their great shoulders; the cheery Irish, swaggering a bit and with a twinkle in their blue eyes; these tall young English boys, showing race in every line; these dashing Canadians, so impressive that their every appearance on a London street was certain to set the crowds to cheering.

I saw them in London, and later on I saw them at the front. Still later I saw them again, prostrate on the ground, in hospital trains, on hospital ships. I saw mounds, too, marked with wooden crosses.

Volunteers and patriots! A race incapable of a mean thing, incapable of a cruelty. A race of sportsmen, playing this horrible game of war fairly, almost too honestly. A race, not of diplomats, but of gentlemen.

"You will always be fools," said a captured German naval officer to his English captors, "and we shall never be gentlemen!"

But they are not fools. It is that attitude toward the English that may defeat Germany in the end.

Every man in the British Army to-day has counted the cost. He is there because he elected to be there. He is going to stay by until the thing is done, or he is. He says very little about it. He is uncomfortable if any one else says anything about it. He is rather matter of fact, indeed, and nonchalant as long as things are being done fairly. But there is nothing calm about his attitude when his opponent hits below the belt. It was a sense of fair play, as well as humanity, that made England rise to the call of Belgium. It is England's sense of fair play that makes her soldiers and sailors go white with fury at the drowning of women and children and noncombatants; at the unprincipled employment of such trickery in war as the use of asphyxiating gases, or at the insulting and ill-treating of those of their army who have been captured by the Germans. It is at the English, not at the French or the Belgians, that Germany is striking in this war. Her whole attitude shows it. British statesmen knew this from the beginning, but the people were slow to believe it. But escaped prisoners have told that they were discriminated against. I have talked with a British officer who made a sensational escape from a German prison camp. German soldiers have called across to the French trenches that it was the English they were after.

In his official order to his troops to advance, the German Emperor voiced the general sentiment.

"It is my Royal and Imperial Command that you concentrate your energies, for the immediate present, upon one single purpose, and that is that you address all your skill and all the valour of my soldiers to exterminate first the treacherous English and walk over General French's contemptible little army.

"Headquarters,

"Aix-la-Chapelle, August 19th, 1914."

In the name of the dignity of great nations, compare that order with Lord Kitchener's instructions to his troops, given at the same time.

"You are ordered abroad as a soldier of the King to help our French comrades against the invasion of a common enemy. You have to perform a task which will need your courage, your energy, your patience. Remember that the honour of the British Army depends on your individual conduct. It will be your duty not only to set an example of discipline and perfect steadiness under fire, but also to maintain the most friendly relations with those whom you are helping in this struggle.

"The operations in which you are engaged will, for the most part, take place in a friendly country, and you can do your own country no better service than in showing yourselves in France and Belgium in the true character of a British soldier.

"Be invariably courteous, considerate, and kind. Never do anything likely to injure or destroy property, and always look upon looting as a disgraceful act. You are sure to meet with a welcome and to be trusted; your conduct will justify that welcome and that trust. Your duty cannot be done unless your health is sound. So keep constantly on your guard against any excesses. In this new experience you may find temptations both in wine and women. You must entirely resist both temptations, and, while treating all women with perfect courtesy, you should avoid any intimacy.

"Do your duty bravely,

"Fear God,

"Honour the King.

"(Signed), KITCHENER, Field Marshal."

Mary Roberts Rinehart